Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Interlude - Busiek and Perez

Most comic book fans "of a certain age" (in other words, those of us who had been in our late teens and early twenties at the time) will probably agree that the majority of the 1990's was a rough stretch. Though some might debate the time line, this period of unease began for me personally when Marvel put all of their creative and promotional eggs in the basket of the X-franchise, allowing the popular artists working those titles to have tremendous input on the stories (to ensure that those stories were filled with elements that would showcase their individual artistic styles), only to have said artists leave the company. For the next few years, most of the mainstream industry was filled with gimmicks and one dimensional storytelling and characterization.

Thankfully, this phase began to wan after a few years. A lot of fans will argue that the beginning of a return to richer storytelling in comics was the Kingdom Come mini series, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, which ran from May to August of 1996, much of which was a commentary of the dark and ultra-violent "heroes" that made up a good deal of the industry at the time (I was so burnt out on comics during the summer of '96 that I actually wouldn't read KC until several years later).

For me, however, the return of comic books to the standard I missed from my younger years was the release of JLA #1, by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, in January of 1997. While certainly telling stories with a more modern sensibility, this series brought back a sense of grandeur and, most importantly, fun that had been missing for some time.

Over at Marvel, however, things were still lagging a bit behind. "The Clone Saga", an event which ran through the many Spider-Man titles at the time and which had proven unpopular with fans and critics, had just wrapped up the month prior.
"Heroes Reborn", which saw the Fantastic Four, Bruce Banner, and many key members of the Avengers supposedly killed in the Marvel Universe and existing in a separate continuity, was in full swing.

When this gimmick also proved to be unpopular, Marvel  released Heroes Reborn: the Return, a mini series which brought the characters back into the main Marvel Universe. Afterwards, Captain America, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and  Avengers were all relaunched, each starting with a new issue 1, and each under the "Heroes Return" banner. As part of this endeavor, the Avengers was given to the more than capable hands of writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez.

The assigning of Avengers to Busiek and Perez was (at least by all appearances) Marvel's answer to DC's revitalized JLA. It was also exactly what Marvel needed at the time. Busiek already had great success with Marvel in the 90s, writing the critically acclaimed Marvel's mini series, as well as creating and writing the popular Thunderbolts. Much like Morrison on JLA, Busiek clearly had a love for the Avengers, and a fondness to spinning a modern take on classic villains. While Morrison was focused on taking the adventures of the JLA close to the extremes of what the mind is willing to wrap itself around (as Grant Morrison does), Busiek's run in Avengers was more geared toward the team dynamic, on viewing these powerful individuals under a microscope, of them dealing with their personal problems and how those problems effected the group as a whole. This was mostly closely demonstrated in new member Justice's idol worship and stage fright around the more experienced heroes, and with Carol Danvers' (then known as Warbird) struggle with alcoholism while dealing with what she saw as a loss of personal identity.

George Perez had worked on the Avengers in the 70s, alongside both  Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter, and has long been considered one of the great classic Avengers artists. It would be in the 80s, however, as artist and co-creator of the New Teen Titans, as the artist of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and as the original cover artist for DC's Who's Who series, that Perez would rightly earn his reputation as a legend of the comics industry. It was during his time with DC that he would become famous for his ability to fit a tremendous number of characters, each with their own distinct details and body language, on one page, or even in one panel. Perez highlighted this skill in the first story arc of Avengers volume 3, when every character who had ever been Avenger joined together (or at least made a cameo appearance) to battle Morgan le Fey. Perez was also specific ensuring that each character had very distinctive features without their mask or costume (not an easy feat on a team with three fit men with short blonde hair).

Following the events of "Ultron Unlimited" (covered here in Episode 5, in case you missed it), Busiek and Perez went on to explore how the Vision dealt with his ex-wife, the Scarlet Witch, being in a relationship with his "brother", Wonder Man. They also detailed a restructured Avengers roster, and the team's conflicts with Kulan Gath, the Exemplars, and the Triune Understanding. If you looking for classic Avengers stories, at a time before superhuman registration, secret invasions, and a government agency run by supervillains, be sure to check out the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run on Avengers volume 3.

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